7 simple habits that could lower your risk of depression, even if it runs in your family

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7 simple habits that could lower your risk of depression, even if it runs in your family
Sleeping enough could reduce the risk of depression, according to a study.Getty Images
  • Depression affects around one in five American adults, according to CDC data.
  • Healthy habits such as getting enough sleep were linked to a lower risk of depression in a study.
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The way we live could have a huge impact on our mental health according to researchers who identified seven lifestyle changes linked to preventing depression, even when it runs in the family.

Recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data estimates that 20%, or one in five US adults, have been diagnosed with depression at some point.

The authors of the study published in Nature Mental Health on September 11 said the reasons people experience depression are complex, with previous research suggesting that lifestyle, biology, and an individual circumstances can all play a role. The authors sought to find out what factors have the biggest effect and why.

The researchers from the University of Cambridge, UK, and Fudan University, China, studied data from a biomedical database called UK Biobank on 290,000 people over a nine-year period, including 13,000 with depression.

As well as genetic and lifestyle data, they looked at brain structure, and immune and metabolic systems, including MRI brain scans, from just under 33,000 participants.

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Overall, their findings suggested that having a poorer lifestyle appeared to affect the immune system and metabolism, which in turn appeared to increase the risk of depression.

The team looked at seven healthy lifestyle factors and found that they were all associated with a lower risk of depression.

Co-author Dr. Christelle Langley, from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge, said: "We're used to thinking of a healthy lifestyle as being important to our physical health, but it's just as important for our mental health. It's good for our brain health and cognition, but also indirectly by promoting a healthier immune system and better metabolism."

The 7 lifestyle factors linked to a lower risk of depression:

Having between seven and nine hours of sleep a night appeared to have the biggest effect, cutting the risk of depression by 22%.

Never smoking reduced the risk by 20%, and having frequent social connection, which decreased the risk by 18%, appeared to be the most protective against recurring bouts of depression.

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Other lifestyle factors such as only drinking alcohol in moderation appeared to decrease the risk of depression by 11%, eating a healthy diet by 6%, doing regular physical activity by 14%, and low-to-moderate sedentary behavior by 13%.

Lifestyle appeared to make a bigger difference than genes in the study

Participants were assigned a genetic risk score based on how many genes with links to depression they carried. The authors found that those with the lowest risk scores had a 25% lower chance of developing depression than those with the highest.

However, they said that this was a much smaller impact compared with lifestyle, which appeared to play a strong protective role against depression regardless of genetic makeup, according to their findings.

Participants were also put into three categories depending on how many of the healthy habits they followed: unfavorable, intermediate, and favorable lifestyle. Those in the intermediate group were 41% less likely to develop depression than those in the unfavorable. While those in the favorable lifestyle group were 57% less likely, the study found.

Co-author professor Barbara Sahakian, from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge, said: "Although our DNA — the genetic hand we've been dealt — can increase our risk of depression, we've shown that a healthy lifestyle is potentially more important.

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"Some of these lifestyle factors are things we have a degree of control over, so trying to find ways to improve them — making sure we have a good night's sleep and getting out to see friends, for example — could make a real difference to people's lives."

Depression can make it harder to live a healthy life

Dr. Paul Keedwell, consultant psychiatrist and Fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, who was not involved in the study, told Insider: "This is an interesting and important study given the vast database that the scientists had to draw on."

However, Keedwell pointed out some limitations. "On the face of it, the study seems to prove a causative effect of unhealthy lifestyles on depression risk, but in population-based studies like this, it is often difficult to be sure of the order of effect.

"We know that a depressive illness affects lifestyle — it can lead to increased alcohol consumption by way of self-medication, inactivity, poor sleep, poor diet, smoking, and social withdrawal," he said.

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